July 11, 2014

Sanctions Experts Visualize Smart Sanctions Relief

IMG_2879Washington, DC – With a potential Iran nuclear deal a little more than a week away, expertise on the issue of sanctions relief is in high demand on Capitol Hill. This week, the National Iranian American Council held a briefing on the issue with three leading experts who helped Congressional staff members navigate the difficult legal terrain.

The briefing untangled the complex issue of sanctions relief – a key element of any potential nuclear agreement with Iran – and addressed critical questions regarding what sanctions relief entails and how sanctions can be relieved. If there was a message for Congressional staff, it was that “there is plenty of ability for the P5+1 – specifically, the United States and the European Union – to offer quite a lot of sanctions relief to Iran,” said panelist Elizabeth Rosenberg, an Energy Fellow at the Center for a New American Security and former Senior Policy Advisor at the Treasury Department.

Launching the discussion, Tyler Cullis – NIAC’s Legal Fellow – described the scope of sanctions relief contemplated should a final deal be reached. Cullis highlighted how, under the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), the US had committed to lift all “nuclear-related” sanctions in return for concessions on Iran’s nuclear program. “It is critical that we preserve US negotiators’ flexibility to win important concessions on Iran’s nuclear program and not shrink the universe of ‘nuclear-related’ sanctions beyond that required to get a deal,” he stressed.

Following, Elizabeth Rosenberg answered critical questions concerning what authorities exist for the President to relieve sanctions on Iran and what role Congress must play in unwinding sanctions. Rosenberg noted that the White House had broad authorities to relieve sanctions on a time-limited but renewable basis and that Congressional action was not required at the front-end of a nuclear deal. However, she argued, “What is really important is the political signaling the administration and Congress send to the private sector.”

Finally, Eric B. Lorber, Associate at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, discussed what reservations the private sector may have taking advantage of any sanctions relief and how that could cause problems during the course of a nuclear agreement. Lorber emphasized that, because of the tough enforcement of sanctions on financial institutions, many private firms are “shying away from doing business with Iran and are trying to insulate themselves from any sanctions liability.”

Lorber also touched on challenges involved in unwinding sanctions and the risk these challenges pose to the sustainability of a nuclear deal. Lorber concluded by noting that, “In the future, Congress and the White House should take care to actively consider how they craft sanctions legislation — including how sanctions can be lifted – before imposing sanctions” in the first place.


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